The Heritage of Daniel Haston


The Caney Fork of the Cumberland
1811 Earthquake - Page 9
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The New Madrid Earthquake of 1811

The first shock of the great earthquake came about 2 A.M. on the 16th. of December, 1811.  It was felt over a very wide area including White and Warren Counties and the Caney Fork River basin.  A report of this earthquake along with the Indian legends connected with it was published in the January, 1924 issue of The National Geographic Magazine.  The following is taken from page 105.

General Rogers, of Revolutionary fame, living at Rock Island, on the Caney Fork River, at the foot of Cumberland Mountains, 200 miles to the east, (of Reelfoot Lake) saw great blocks of sandstone, loosened from the top escarpment, 1,000 above the river, crash down the mountain sides.

This agrees with tradition in the area that rocks fell but otherwise is not very accurate.  The name should be spelled with a "d" as Rodgers.  He was not a Revolutionary soldier.  He was not born till 1799 and the family was not living at Rock Island at the time of the earthquake.

The story is told that Rock Martin was born at Rock Island on the night of the earthquake and that is why he is called "Rock."  According to local tradition rocks fell from the top of the cliffs and Rock Island was formed by a huge piece of rock becoming detached from the cliffs.  The last part of the statement makes interesting reading but is not true.  The island was in place when the Battle of Rock Island was fought and when the first settlers and explorers visited the area in the 1790's.

The following description was taken from the History of White County by the Rev. Monroe Seals.  The effects of the quake seem to have been about the same in the White County as in the New Madrid area.

From the beginning of 1811 to the close of 1815 was a period of intense excitement.  In December, 1811, there was an earthquake that startled our inhabitants.  It had been raining for three months and the Calfkiller River was running muddy water.  The earthquake was at night.  There was a smell of sulphur in the air before the shock.  There as a wave of the land accompanied by a roar, then the most frightful thing occurred in an accompanying crackling sound that sent terror to the stoutest hearts.  A dozen people who were in the quake said that rents were made in parts of this County that were wide enough to receive a tree and they seemed bottomless.  Mud and steam shot out of the ground as high as trees.  Water spouted out of he ground.  Up the Calfkiller River a knoll containing about two acres was moved off its base without upturning a single tree, being moved from one to eight feet a day by the repeated shocks that came six or eight times a day.  These were strong enough to rattle the dishes in the cupboard.  These shocks continued for six months.  Three are half a dozen springs coming up through the holes so deep that cords made of three boss balls do not reach the bottom.  They are thought to have been formed by the earthquake.  Some have fish in them.  There was the brightest aurora borealis ever know in this County.  Excitement reached its climax when a blazing star spread its tail across the sky. When it arose people could be heard praying in almost every part of the neighborhood.  They said it was a sure sign of war.  When the War of 1812 broke out, our wise ancestors shook their heads and said, "I told you so."

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